Return to Chungking Mansions

A new friend of mine recently invited me out to a curry night at the infamous Chungking Mansions — without a doubt the dodgiest place in all of Hong Kong. It’s the only place in HK that I walk into a feel not quite so safe. People stare openly, the men devour you with their eyes, and there are so many weird characters, including an old British homeless guy with a white poodle that kept circling his feet and a kitten in his pocket. Outside the building young Indian guys are constantly hustling you — ‘Copy watch? Tailor made suit?’ There are a lot of illegal immigrants there, and not too long ago a Canadian girl went in there and never came out. I think the backpackers who stay in the hostels there are quite brave. Chungking may have the best curry, but even the local Chinese avoid the place!

Anyway, I was under the impression that the get-together was a group of people who knew each other, and I was expecting maybe a dozen people. I was told that the organiser was an American girl whose boyfriend’s family owned a curry place in Chungking. It was $100 a head, all you could eat curry buffet. Sounded quite normal to me.

But last night when we arrived at Chungking it was not what I expected at all: we walked into a small room jammed to the brim with about 40 people all mingling and chatting and introducing themselves and swapping business cards. It was quite weird… the organiser had apparently adopted Indian culture as her own and was fully decked out in a beautiful Indian outfit and was even practicing her Urdu. Bollywood music was blasting in the background. And just as everyone was settling in, having a drink and relaxing, she suddenly stood up on a chair in the middle of the room announced that we were going on a scavenger hunt in Tsim Sha Tsui!

The hostess with the mostess – and the instructions.

People broke into groups, grabbed the questions, and headed down the dank stairwell, much to the curious looks of the residents. We had to find out how many steps were in the stairwell between the 6th and ground floor; the official address of Chungking; what building is at the corner of Peking and Nathan roads; what was the exchange rate between the HK dollar and the rupee (the clerk at the exchange booth was not impressed)… all kinds of silly things. It was funny; reminded me a lot of being at university again.

Julian asking the very patient clerk the exchange rate.

Still hunting for clues…

When all that was done, back upstairs we went to present the answers to find out we were the first group to return.

‘What’s our prize?’ we asked.

‘Knowledge!’ was her reply.

They have some really weird characters in Hong Kong, I tell you that for sure.

Anyway it was a fun night overall, met a lot of interesting people, and it made me appreciate how easy it is for foreigners to make friends here. Everyone who comes to HK is here for work and they’re all in the same boat, so people are usually outgoing, friendly, easy to talk to, easy to keep in contact with.

This is quite different to Japan, where it seems like most of the foreigners are actually trying to — impossibly — blend in with the Japanese culture, and openly avoid making friends with other foreigners! Sounds bizarre but true. Perhaps they think, if I ignore the other foreigners, the Japanese people will not notice that I too am a foreigner.  Talk about a losing battle. You could speak fluent Japanese, live there for 20 years and have a Japanese family, and you’ll always be a foreigner. Seems that Hong Kong is a much easier place to settle in.

Spring has also finally arrived in Hong Kong. It’s beautiful. It’s cool and warm and the sky is blue. Windows are open, people are outside… it’s wonderful. Come to think of it, why am I sitting inside blogging on this beautiful Sunday? I’m going outside!

3 thoughts on “Return to Chungking Mansions

  1. did you punch her in her smug mouth? I can just see her all smarmy when she told you what your prize was. She has got to be a teacher. One of those annoying kinds who thinks that every word that drops from her gaping gob is a nugget, like she is some kind of alchemist of wisdom. Maybe that’s the why and wherefore of the costume.

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